In the News
February 14 Commemorative Marches
Canada-wide Actions Demand Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Marches and other commemorative activities were organized in cities and towns across Canada and Quebec on February 14, the 31st annual Women’s Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The annual event was initiated in 1992 in Vancouver which has a very large number of women murdered and missing, especially in its Downtown Eastside.
The largest marches took place this year in Vancouver and Montreal.
Thousands of people marched through the streets of downtown Vancouver to honour Indigenous women and girls, trans people and Two-Spirit people who have been murdered or are missing, victims of the violence of colonialism, and to demand action to prevent further harm. The theme was “Their Spirits Live Within Us.” Participants laid roses for those missing and murdered in the Downtown Eastside, where there continues to be a high incidence of violence against Indigenous women.
The march, led by women, started with prayers and speeches at the corner of Main and Hastings, then proceeded through the neighbourhood, stopping to commemorate where women were last seen or found.
One of the speakers at the Vancouver event was Sheridan Martin of the Gitxsan Nation whose sister died after going missing on the Highway of Tears in Northern BC in 2018. Martin said that she was marching for her sister, with the strength of her mother who was a residential school survivor.
A member of the committee that organized the march, Wendy Nahanee, said that “Sadly, the amount of missing, murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit, trans continue to increase, and we are here today to honour them, their families, and to hopefully draw attention to the fact that these murdered and missing people are going unreported, uninvestigated and no charges are being laid,” Another community leader called on the media to take responsibility for reporting on missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans people and Two-Spirit people using words that dehumanize sacred life.
Despite the freezing cold, around 700 Montrealers formed a solemn but proud and determined contingent. The families and friends of these women were present, alongside others with first hand experience of abuse, to speak out against crimes and in defence of Indigenous peoples’ right to be. Light and colour was added to the vigil with candles, red dresses and red ribbons in their memory.
This year’s commemoration and march was organized by the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and the Quebec Federation of Women.
Participants assembled in the early evening at Cabot Square, a decades-long gathering place for Indigenous peoples. They listened to the voices of their Indigenous brothers and sisters recounting their experience, as well as to the singing and drumming of the Buffalo Hat Singers, then marched east along St-Catherine Street, stopping every once in a while to listen to others.
A moving testimonial was given by a friend of Loretta Saunders, an Indigenous woman living in Halifax. She was a university student writing an honours thesis on missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada when she disappeared in February of 2014 and was found murdered almost two weeks later.
Another courageous Indigenous woman, originally from the Northwest Territories, spoke of how Indigenous women have been victimized and targeted for hundreds of years. She related how her own daughter and one of her friends, both minors at the time, had been assaulted by a white male and because her daughter had protected and defended herself she was charged with assault and had to do community service.
“But this is not just this year, or next or last year,” she continued. “This has been going on for hundreds of years, but I feel a shift, and your presence here today […] shows that things are changing. We need you, we can’t do this on our own, we can’t protect our women on our own. It takes Indigenous, non-Indigenous, elders, men, boys, the next generation.”
Nakuset, the Director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, spoke about the shelter’s Iskweu Project in support of Indigenous women who do not feel they are safe or heard when speaking to the police. She spoke of research they are preparing by “going to the communities and finding the actual numbers.” She related how the shelter’s researcher had spoken about a database that the RCMP had that contained the names of only 46 women from Quebec that had gone missing or been murdered. “But she has numbers that say more like 200 women and 100 men,” she remarked. “So we have to do the work, we have to take the initiative. This year we created a 1-800 number so that people do not have to speak to the police. They can call the number about someone who went missing or if you have found someone, we can follow up and let the police know.”
Marlene Hale, activist and elder from the Likhsilyu clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, also took part in the commemoration, drumming with the others as the vigil proceeded. She was the last to speak. She began by saying: “Let’s hear it for the Wet’suwet’en Nation!” The response was loud applause.
“Today is a very, very long day all across the land, from Montreal to Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. I have people from all over dealing with missing and murdered Indigenous women. From here to Victoria, the Wet’suwet’en Nation and also at Fairy Creek we condemn the atrocities they have [endured] for saving the Old Forest Growth.” She went on to relate that a cousin of hers is also missing.
“No matter where we are, we are all affected by this day. As I was walking here, with this beautiful moon — there are people all across the land looking at the same moon, thinking about the same things that we are. I thank you all for coming out […] and for all of the organizers who put this all together, the singers, the drummers and the people yourselves, who come out and honour the awareness, bringing everything with you, your souls, for the sisters out there.”
(Renewal Update, posted February 16, 2022. Photos: RU, F. Jaffer, T. Norman.)